Duval Launches Effort to Fight Youth Obesity; Some of the Initiatives Would Be Low-Cost, but Others Would Need Funds

Article excerpt

Byline: JEREMY COX

Duval County health care advocates have released a broad list of proposals ranging from expanding the sidewalk network to providing tax incentives to grocers who sell healthy foods. Their goal: shrinking children's waistlines.

The campaign, announced in a news conference Friday at the Duval County Health Department's headquarters, incorporates some programs that stand to cost little or no money. Those initiatives include printing healthy-living pamphlets and encouraging employers to adopt employee wellness programs.

But others would require considerable funding at a time when hurting property tax revenues are squeezing government budgets and an uncertain economy is pinching consumers' pocketbooks.

"That's one of the challenges with this whole process," health department spokesman Charles Griggs said. But "some of these are easy fixes."

For example, he said, county engineers can design new roads with bike lanes inside the right of way instead of wide medians.

A 2006 survey shows that about 28 percent of Jacksonville middle and high school students are overweight or obese.

"We're very alarmed that the rate of childhood obesity is increasing rather than decreasing," said Bob Harmon, director of the Duval County Health Department.

The causes are many and diverse, advocates say. They include a decrease in physical activity during school hours, lack of access to healthy foods in some neighborhoods and an urban environment that encourages driving instead of walking.

Jonathan Evans, a pediatric gastroenterologist at Nemours Children's Clinic, said he has seen a vast increase in the number of children who are overweight over the last 15 years. Many suffer from diseases that were once only associated with adults, such as Type II diabetes.

"What they're setting in motion is a train that's difficult to stop," Evans said.

COMMUNITY GRANTS AVAILABLE

Evans is a co-chairman of the Healthy Jacksonville Childhood Obesity Prevention Coalition, an alliance of 100 health advocacy organizations created in 2003 as part of a wider initiative, called Healthy People 2010. …